The Council of Europe’s Parliamentary Assembly and Ukraine Pass in the Night

Call it a misunderstanding.

The Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe co-rapporteurs for Ukraine Mailis Reps and Marietta de Pourbaix-Lundin have issued a statement calling on Kyiv to release former Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko from prison following the recent  partial ruling by the European Court of Human Rights that her pre-trial detention violated her rights.

The issues raised in that first ruling are moot, and do not involve Ms. Tymoshenko’s current imprisonment. That is the subject of a second appeal, which is still pending before the ECHR.

To be clear, last week’s court decision did not call for any release and dealt with the narrow issue of pre-trial detention, which has been corrected by new criminal procedures that conform to European norms and have been since been legislatively approved by Ukraine’s parliament.

Despite this, the co-rapporteurs said, “We specifically expect the Ukrainian authorities not to wait with this until the Court in Strasbourg rules on her appeal against her conviction by the Ukrainian court. That would not be justifiable in the light of the court judgment.”

Yet doing this would undermine every effort to encourage the rule of law in Ukraine.

Ukraine is entitled to appeal the ECHR’s ruling under European law, which recognizes that a nation’s laws represent its people’s beliefs, and are entitled to an opportunity at vindication.

Furthermore, Ukraine has promised to abide by all final decisions of the ECHR. There is a process for this, and asking Ukraine to throw aside its commitment to the rule of law over Yulia Tymoshenko is demanding that the baby and the bathwater be discarded.

This case will set a precedent with which each subsequent Ukrainian government must grapple. There must be one law for the poor and weak as well as the rich and powerful. To cast aside the law merely because a former Prime Minister is its object undermines that principle.

Mmes. Reps and de Pourbaix-Lundin are hardly disinterested observers. The pair has called for Tymoshenko’s release on any pretext at all for years. As early as August of 2011, they were calling not only Tymoshenko’s detention but her trial politically motivated, and demanding her immediate release, without particular interest in the laws she violated. Together and individually, they have made their office into a lobbying effort for Tymoshenko’s cause.

It would be easier for Ukraine to take the co-rapporteurs’ suggestion and bypass the law – doing so would eliminate the European Union’s last remaining objection to Kyiv. It must not do so. The rule of law is too precious to be cast aside even in the name of national interest.

Image Copyright Foreign Ministry of Ukraine